Sur­prise win­ner:

Business Day - - FRONT PAGE - Agency Staff Kin­shasa

Sup­port­ers of Felix Tshisekedi, leader of the main Con­golese op­po­si­tion party, the Union for Democ­racy and So­cial Progress, who was an­nounced as the win­ner of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, cel­e­brate out­side the party's head­quar­ters in Kin­shasa, Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, on Thurs­day.

Felix Tshisekedi, named pro­vi­sional win­ner of the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo’s (DRC) pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, is the son of the coun­try’s vet­eran op­po­si­tion leader but has never held high of­fice or even a man­age­rial role.

Known to friends as “Fat­shi”, the portly 55-year-old ap­pears to have won the prize that long eluded his late fa­ther, who spent 35 years lead­ing the op­po­si­tion but never lived to win of­fice.

Tshisekedi heads the Union for Democ­racy and Progress (UDPS), the DRC ’So­cial s old­est and largest op­po­si­tion party. It was founded and led by his fa­ther, Eti­enne. After his fa­ther died in Fe­bru­ary 2017, Tshisekedi took up the reins.

And in less than two years, he ap­pears to have hit the jack­pot, with the elec­tion com­mis­sion nam­ing him the sur­prise vic­tor in De­cem­ber’s his­toric vote to suc­ceed Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila, who has ruled the volatile, poverty-stricken na­tion with an iron fist since 2001.

Vic­to­ri­ous, his first words were a trib­ute to Ka­bila. “To­day we should no longer see him as an ad­ver­sary but rather as a part­ner in the demo­cratic change in our coun­try,” he told tri­umphant sup­port­ers.

But his ap­par­ent vic­tory was not with­out con­tro­versy, with op­po­si­tion ri­val Martin Fayulu, who came a close sec­ond, de­nounc­ing the re­sult as an “elec­toral coup”.

And France’s top diplo­mat said that the vic­tory was “not con­sis­tent” with the re­sults and that Fayulu ap­peared to have won, cit­ing a par­al­lel count by DRC’s pow­er­ful Catholic Church, which sent 40,000 ob­servers to the elec­tion.

For a while, it looked like Tshisekedi’s name would not even be on the bal­lot.

On Novem­ber 11, he joined six other op­po­si­tion lead­ers to rally be­hind a sin­gle unity can­di­date, Fayulu, to take on Ka­bila’s hand­picked suc­ces­sor, Em­manuel Ra­mazani Shadary.

But the deal drew a fu­ri­ous re­sponse from his sup­port­ers, prompt­ing him and fel­low op­po­si­tion leader Vi­tal Kamerhe to aban­don the deal and run on a joint ticket, ef­fec­tively weak­en­ing and split­ting the op­po­si­tion.

The pair had pre­vi­ously agreed that if they won, Kamerhe would be­come Tshisekedi’s prime min­is­ter.

Since his fa­ther founded the UDPS in 1982, the party has served as an op­po­si­tion main­stay in the for­mer Bel­gian colony

— first un­der dic­ta­tor Mobutu Sese Seko, then un­der Ka­bila’s fa­ther, Lau­rent-De­sire Ka­bila, who ruled from 1997 un­til his death in 2001.

A fa­ther of five, Tshisekedi goes to the same Pen­te­costal church as Fayulu in Kin­shasa, the cap­i­tal. Although Tshisekedi does not en­joy the same de­gree of pop­u­lar­ity as his fa­ther, he has risen steadily through the ranks of the party.

“Eti­enne was stub­born and proud,” said one keen ob­server of the coun­try’s op­po­si­tion. “Felix is more diplo­matic, more con­cil­ia­tory, more ready to lis­ten to oth­ers.”

In 2008, he be­came na­tional sec­re­tary for ex­ter­nal re­la­tions and was elected to the na­tional as­sem­bly in 2011 as rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Mbuji-Mayi, the coun­try’s third city.

How­ever, he never took up his seat as he did not for­mally recog­nise his fa­ther’s 2011 elec­tion de­feat to Ka­bila.

A month after his fa­ther’s death, Tshisekedi was elected as party head. Although he holds a Bel­gian diploma in mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, he has had lit­tle po­lit­i­cal or man­age­rial ex­pe­ri­ence.

After an­nounc­ing his bid to run for the pres­i­dency, Tshisekedi promised a re­turn to the rule of law, to fight the “gan­grene” of cor­rup­tion and to bring peace to eastern DRC.

/Reuters

The sur­prise win­ner: Felix Tshisekedi, leader of the Union for Democ­racy and So­cial Progress, the main op­po­si­tion party in the DRC, ges­tures to his sup­port­ers in Kin­shasa on Thurs­day after he was an­nounced the win­ner of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

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